Academic Visa Rejections Threaten UK’s Reputation of Excellence, Say Scientists

The director of a world leading research centre based in London has warned of the possible urgency to relocate science conferences outside the UK.

This warning came following visa rejections which were imposed on 17 speakers and representatives from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia that were supposed to attend the second annual Women Leaders in Global Health Conference at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine on 8-9 November.

The head of UK and EU policy of the Welcome Trust, one of the supporters of the conference and the biggest non-governmental supplier of financial resources for research in Britain, Dr Beth Thompson, revealed concern about such restrictions becoming common practice.

She said: “The news that 17 researchers from Africa and Asia have been refused visas for a UK conference sadly follows a number of other cases.”

In his letter to the UK Home Secretary, Professor Peter Piot, the Director of the London research institute, said that these visa rejections not only preclude experts from contributing to international debate regarding health and health equity, but also prevent UK researchers from gaining important knowledge on the subject.

He warned that “if the UK wants to establish itself as a global hub for health and science, the current visa restrictions represent a significant threat to that goal.”

“Global challenges require global solutions”.

The president of the Royal Society, Venki Ramakrishnan, expressed similar concerns regarding the UK’s reputation as a global science hub.

He argued in a statement that “Global challenges require global solutions”.

“The visa system that has excluded these scientists may well be applied to the rest of the EU after Brexit — that could further worsen the international reputation of the UK.”

In light of this, Professor Piot threatened that “Our School is already considering moving the locations of many of our large international meetings to outside of the UK so that valued global experts can participate more easily.”

These warnings have emerged the month after the senior Leeds researcher Peter Selby from the Faculty of Medicine and Health was awarded the 2018 European Health Award. He won the prestigious award for the project ‘A Catalyst for Change: The European Cancer Patient’s Bill of Rights’, which was conducted jointly with researchers from the Queen’s University Belfast.

Professor Selby described this as “a superb example of how cooperative European activities that involve sharing best practice between countries can result in top class prize-winning initiatives.”

In a recent factsheet the Royal Society said that a global outlook is increasingly central to research and innovation in the UK and worldwide, and that the UK’s reputation for excellence does and should inspire further international cooperation with “other scientifically excellent nations” in order to improve scientific research.   

Dr Beth Thompson commented that “if we want to continue producing the best science, producing discoveries that will improve all our lives we need to make it easier, not harder, for researchers to travel and collaborate across borders.

“Collaboration and international mobility make science stronger. Keeping the UK open to international talent is critical to Britain’s scientific success now and in the future.”

Peter Piot said, however, “unfortunately, the current restrictive criteria . . . can only deter organisations from holding future conferences in the UK at a crucial time when the UK should be ‘open for business’ ”.

Zornitsa Stoycheva

[Image: Pixabay]